Cablegate: Police Raid "Illegal" House Church in Hcmc During a/S
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000766
DEPARTMENT FOR PRM A/S DEWEY
DEPARTMENT ALSO FOR EAP/BCLTV, DRL
E. O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREL SOCI PGOV KIRF VM HUMANR ETMIN RELFREE
SUBJECT: POLICE RAID "ILLEGAL" HOUSE CHURCH IN HCMC DURING A/S
DEWEY'S VISIT TO VIETNAM
1. (SBU) Summary: Just prior to the return of Assistant Secretary
Eugene Dewey to Ho Chi Minh City from the Central Highlands on
Monday, August 18 (septels), ConGen HCMC learned of an altercation
at an unrecognized "illegal" Protestant house church in the city's
District 11. According to reliable Protestant sources, police had
raided a prayer meeting at the church earlier that morning and
took nine Protestants to the police station. Two pastors among
the nine were held until late Tuesday evening, just prior to Mr.
Dewey's departure. The wife of one of the pastors was rushed to
the hospital with heart problems after much wrangling with the
police over whether she could leave. She remained in the hospital
as of 10:00 a.m. local time on Thursday, August 21. End summary.
2. (SBU) According to our long-time contacts, approximately 20
members of the Full Gospel Assembly were gathered for a prayer
meeting at a rented dwelling on Lac Long Quan Street in District
11 on Monday morning. Worshippers had been meeting at this
unrecognized "illegal" house church for over a year and a half,
with 30-40 members gathering for worship services every Sunday.
Until this incident, the police had never interfered with church
activities, although they were clearly aware of its presence.
3. (SBU) During Monday's meeting, police reportedly raided the
house and ordered the believers to disperse. Taking advice by
telephone from more experienced pastors, lay pastor Bui Van Ba
asked the police to let the group complete their prayer meeting,
after which he would work with the local authorities to resolve
their concerns. Meanwhile, these other pastors worked quickly to
telephone their contacts in the city police department, local and
national religious affairs agencies, and the Ministry of Public
Security in Hanoi. An officer on the city police force told one
of them he had instructed the local district police to stand down.
That order appears to have been ignored.
4. (SBU) As the house confrontation grew more heated, Pastor Ba's
wife, who suffers an unspecified heart ailment, fainted there.
Thwarted by police in his attempts to get her to the hospital,
Pastor Ba engaged in a physical altercation with the police. By
Pastor Ba's own account, he was "forced" to strike out at the
police after they pushed him and blocked his exit. He was then
taken to the police station bleeding from a minor injury to his
head, after which another pastor was finally allowed to take
Pastor Ba's wife to the hospital. Police also took eight other
Protestants from the church to the local police station for
questioning. One was held at the station until Tuesday evening.
Pastor Ba was moved to a local municipal jail at 83 Tan Hoa Street
until his release at the same time.
5. (SBU) A representative of the church was denied permission to
visit the detainees on Tuesday morning, but was shown a document,
which was purportedly a confession signed by Pastor Ba. Members
of the church have since shared photographs taken after the
incident, including some of Pastor Ba's wife in the hospital; what
appear to be official orders from the district police ordering the
pastor's temporary detention for beating a police officer and
subsequent release under condition that he not leave his
residence; several matching eyewitness reports; and a cassette
which reportedly contains the audio of the entire confrontation.
(Post Note: Poloff will listen to this cassette tonight.)
6. (SBU) A/S Dewey asked his interlocutors to look into this
incident during meetings with the HCMC Religious Affairs Committee
and the External Relations Office (ERO - the local branch of the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs). While none of the local officials
seemed aware of the case at the time, chairman of religious
affairs Nguyen Ngoc San acknowledged that local officials
sometimes violated religious freedoms due to "lack of
understanding" of national policies on religion. Mr. Dewey was
able to receive a report from the ERO just as he finished up his
last meeting of the trip. According to the ERO report, local
authorities said a district policeman on patrol had noticed a
large gathering at the house "late Monday night" and was attacked
by Pastor Ba while trying to investigate. The police claimed they
did not detain the pastor overnight. They further claimed that no
one else had been taken to the police station "officially", but
said other members of the group "may have accompanied" the pastor
7. (SBU) Comment: According to our contacts, incidents like this
are all the more remarkable because they happen so infrequently
within the city limits. While there is always the possibility
that some elements within the Protestant community might have
wished to exploit Mr. Dewey's visit here, the evidence in this
case does not indicate that this was a deliberately provocative
act on the part of the Full Gospel Church. The rather
unconvincing explanation provided by Vietnamese officials -- which
might pass muster in the provinces -- rings hollow in HCMC.
8. (SBU) Comment continued: Asked for their views, our Protestant
contacts were somewhat at a loss, expressing astonishment that
something like this could happen in HCMC. A few conjectured that
the GVN might be testing the strength and resolve of local
Protestants and the international community before undertaking
similar repressive measures against other unregistered groups. At
this point, the incident seems to be an exception to the rule of
GVN laissez-faire policy on religious worship in HCMC.
Nonetheless, it is a troubling case and Post will continue to
monitor religious practice in this, Vietnam's largest city.
9. (U) A/S Dewey did not see this cable before his departure